In Princi(ple), Starbucks Adds Food to the Menu

Back in 2005, after a long flight to Milan and a late train to our hotel from Malpensa, all we could do after check-in (it was around 11pm) was to try to get some shut-eye. Try, as you can imagine, because our biological clocks were off-kilter.

The next morning, we headed out for breakfast. The night before, we walked past a bakery/café with a beautiful display of baked items. It was only a few doors away from our hotel on Via Speronari, so it was a logical choice to have our very first meal in Italy, breakfast at Princi. Rather than something sweet, we ordered savory focaccias that were cut up into little rectangles, and our beverages (espresso, cappuccino). Like the Italian customers, we had our breakfast standing up at the counter. Little did we know that many years later this café, now one of five in Milan and one in London, would capture the imagination of Howard Schultz, enough for Starbucks to enter into a business partnership with Rocco Princi to provide in-house food service at Starbucks Roastery stores and Reserve coffee shops, so reported the Seattle Times.

Rocco, I love your stuff.

Grazie, Howard.

Ever think of expanding the business outside of Milan? You know, go world-wide? Kinda like my vast empire.

No offense, Howard, but my business model is different. We make things from scratch, use organic ingredients, control the entire operation from beginning to end. We strive for top quality, whatever it takes. Our operation isn’t scalable like yours.

Rocco, you gotta be kiddin’ me. Think big. Maybe cut a few corners here and there. If the pizzas get a little burnt, bitter maybe, no one’s gonna care. Give it a catchy name like full città arrosto.

Not gonna happen, Howard.

Rocco, Rocco. People respect your name, and they’ll pay.

It’s a matter of principle.

Did I mention that Starbucks would provide you with the space and equipment? You’ll make a mint.

How much are we talking about?

This dialog didn’t ACTUALLY take place. It’s more an alternative conversation. So, what’s really happening here? Starbucks gets exclusive rights to open Princi outlets all over the world, both in its high-end stores and as standalone entities. Since its inception in 1986, Princi has opened six stores (including one in London), clearly in keeping with a strategy of careful growth. Starbucks has over 20,000 stores. Its customers will recall that, in response to criticisms of inferior pastries (my daughter being one of them), Starbucks in 2012 bought La Boulange of San Francisco, which had quite a Bay Area following. While their pastries will continue to be sold at Starbucks, all 23 brick-and-mortar La Boulange stores were unceremoniously shuttered in 2015. They “weren’t sustainable for the company’s long-term growth.” A cautionary tale for Rocco Princi is in there somewhere.

To be clear, food service is going to be provided only at Starbucks’ special stores. Exactly what will be served is up in the air now, though pizza and focaccia are surely slated. The first to get a Princi will be Seattle’s own Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, perhaps in the summer.


Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room, Seattle

Current tenant Serious Pie, operated by local superstar restauranteur Tom Douglas, will be replaced by Princi, an agreement reached amicably.


Princi will take over Serious Pie’s place

I’ll be one of the first to find out how Princi handles the transition, but the feeling of café intimacy I got in Milan surely will not be part of the experience.

Starbucks Columbia Center Reaches Lofty Heights

A view from a Starbucks? Is the question even relevant? In August, our Segway tour guide in West Seattle gave us a tip. If we didn’t want to pay $12.50 for the pleasure of riding to the 73rd floor of Columbia Center for the view, purportedly better than the one from atop the Space Needle, you can look down 40 floors for free while sipping coffee at the Starbucks store there. You don’t get the panoramic view that you would at the top since there are windows only on two sides. If you look to your left out the northwest-facing window, you can get a good view of Elliott Bay, docked ferry boats and the Olympic Mountains.

view from starbucks columbia center

Before he bought Starbucks, the store used to be one of Howard Schultz’s Il Giornale coffee houses. Like a typical Italian caffé, customers would order coffee and stand at a bar to drink it, compatible with the hurried professionals who work in Columbia Center. It is now a more traditional Starbucks with places to sit down and admire the view, especially on clear days.

We enjoyed our breakfast here simply because of the setting. My daughter has long been on a harangue that Starbucks served the worst pastries of any coffee house in Seattle. Then, Starbucks purchased La Boulange in August to supply the coffee chain with high-quality pastries. As part of the seasonal offerings, we tried the pumpkin cheesecake croissant (☆☆). While it tasted of nutmeg, it was not in the least flaky as a good croissant should be. If it seems I’m dissing all Starbucks’ pastries, the double chocolate meringue cookie (☆☆☆½) I had at the Ballard store last week was really good.

Pumpkin cheesecake croissant

Pumpkin cheesecake croissant

Incidentally, it’s really easy to get here by bus. Many lines, including ours, stops right in front (4th Ave and Cherry stop).

Note: I didn’t realize this until later, but there is also a Clover machine here, only available in select stores. It makes short-order coffee using a vacuum-press technology. Depending on the coffee variety, the machine will digitally dispense hot water at an ideal temperature and steep the grounds for an optimal length of time. The coffee is then pulled into the cup by vacuum pressure through a micro-filter so fine that the usual oil rings produced by plunger pots are eliminated. I sampled a cup of Sulawesi at the Ballard store last week and found the brew to be smoother and better tasting than Starbucks’ traditional drip method.

Starbucks Columbia Center
4824 Rainier Ave S
Seattle, WA 98118